Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
At one point in all our lives we must stand up for something we believe in. There’s massive racial inequality still very much alive in the United states of America and professional athletes are using their platforms to protest the inequality and to promote their feelings and beliefs whilst fighting the matter. They’re standing up, or in this case, kneeling down for what they believe in. As an NFL journalist I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled much of the United States and I’ve seen first hand how poverty stricken some of the communities are. In downtown Washington I’ve seen the most prestigious, glorious and renowned buildings and monuments on the planet and then just a few blocks away from this splendor I’ve seen real poverty. It was Samuel Johnson that said ” “The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.” On my travels I saw a side to America that not many ever will. It was the great actor Robin Williams that said that he’d make jokes and perform comedy at any given situation because he knew how it was to feel completely depressed and worthless. Having suffered I would thrive on helping those that suffered also. I could relate to him in some way. I think any writer worth their salt is constantly researching for a story. I felt that I was subconsciously researching all the time. Even in my sleep. A negative experience wasn’t always negative because I knew someone somewhere would get something out of reading it when I wrote it. I suppose I’m doing that right now. I hope someone feels inspired from reading this article.
In downtown Philadelphia I saw a homeless man sleep on top of a man hole cover so that the steam could keep him warm. I stood over him feeling pity and wanted to give him some of the fight I had within me but in a way I felt as helpless as he was. Unfortunately he had to settle with a bottle of Gatorade, a half eaten subway sandwich and a packet of Doritos chips but I hope that give him some sort of confidence in the human race and from that I hoped that he could muster up a little courage to fight his situation. Over the Delaware river from Philadelphia is the city of Camden, New Jersey. Camden is known as the most dangerous city in America and has the highest murder rate over the last decade along with East St’ Louis, Missouri. Baltimore, Maryland and Flint, Michigan. Philadelphia is where the United States was born and where the declaration of independence was signed. It had the first presidential house before the White house in Washington and is home to the Liberty Bell, Benjamin Franklin and Rocky Balboa. Again, It’s rich and historic downtown and within just a few blocks or a river you see desperation and poverty. As a journalist with an inquisitive mind and fearless approach I found visiting these places on the east coast fascinating. Baltimore is so well depicted in the TV series ‘The Wire’ and Detroit in the film ‘8 Mile’ starring Eminem and the late Brittany Murphy.
I grew up with the stories of murder and gang culture in Los Angeles and the Rodney King trial left many un-answered questions towards authority in America for me. Even though I was young, I had a mother who was an expert at explaining things to me and I always believed there was corruption and cases of Police brutality within the LAPD. I loved how it was depicted recently in the film ‘ Straight outta Compton ‘. The Rodney King trial verdict caused riots in Los Angeles. Just like the riots we’ve seen in these poverty stricken cities over the past few years after similar offences and courtroom verdicts. What strikes me first is the fact that we haven’t grown as a society. We haven’t solved the problem or found a vaccine for the disease known as racism. So, What do we do as a society ? Where do we go from here ? I ask myself….
As part of the BBC, I was asked to do a radio interview the day after San Francisco quarterback, Colin Kaepernick took a knee in protest of the American flag and the American national anthem and what they both stood for from his point of view. This protest took place on Monday night football in the opening week of the 2016 NFL season on prime time television so the audience was vast. His actions caused a wave of controversy the world over and as the first NFL journalist from Wales, I had to give my point of view on the situation the following day. I have hundreds of friends in America of African decent and I love a sport that has a very high percentage of participants of that ethnicity. I knew I spoke for them as much as I did for myself. One thing that immediately came to mind when I saw Colin Kaepernick’s protest was the death of global icon and former heavyweight boxing world champion, Mohammed Ali. His loss was huge for any emotionally driven individual and I promise Colin Kaepernick was inspired to go through with his protest with Mohammed Ali in mind. I also thought of John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Tokyo summer Olympics when they held their black gloved hands in the air in protest of racial inequality back then. Just a few months before the games the great man and civil rights leader, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee at the Hotel Lorraine by James Earl Ray who was a fugitive from the Missouri state penitentiary. In my interview I spoke the truth and felt that I answered every question with depth and intellect. I firmly believe that travel is the greatest form of education and no book could’ve taught me what I know about poverty and racial inequality throughout the United States from my adventures there through the sport I love. Following the interview I was asked by a few media outlets and networks to write a more in-depth article about the current situation in the United States and the efforts and backlash of Colin Kaepernick. To do this right and to the best of my ability I knew I had to team up with a fellow journalist and good friend that’s lived through and has had first hand experience of all that I was talking about to the nation. Jason Figuora has been in many situations and has first hand accounts of police brutality and racial inequality. My only goal for this project is to tell it exactly how it is and to get the history and the foundations of the situation known as much as the protests we see weekly through our TV’s or at sporting events. I want to show how some brave athletes have protested and used their platforms to combat the situation. Great Baltimore Ravens and future first ballot hall of fame linebacker, Ray Lewis was at the heart of the Baltimore riots and pleaded with his people to stop the violence and looting and to return to their homes in peace. This is a man who was accused of murder and used the negativity of his doubters as fuel to win a Superbowl with one of the greatest seasons ever by a defender. He missed the first round of the draft as a pundit and expert at ESPN because of that and I know how much he would’ve studied those players coming into the NFL from doing it myself every year. I truly believe it’s going to take a lot more inspiration from the likes of Ray Lewis and Mohammed Ali to conquer this evil beast but we have to remain hopeful and faithful in the words of Martin Luther king in the opening quote of this article and believe that love will drive out hate just like light drives out darkness.
As of today, Colin Kaepernick is still a free agent. Many say that he’s asking for too much money to be a back-up and others that he’s just not good enough to play in the league. In the right system like the one Jim Harbaugh played him in during their superbowl season he’s as effective as any quarterback in the league at moving the ball down field. He’s won at the highest level and came from behind in the games leading up to the superbowl. If every team planned on carrying 3 quarterbacks for the season then there’re 96 quarterbacks out there that’re better than Colin Kaepernick. He’s easily a top 30 quarterback and in the right system he’s top 15. The reason he’s a free agent is pure politics. It’s just wrong that he isn’t being signed because of his personal beliefs. I do however see a few potential landing spots for him eventually. We have Jim Harbaugh’s brother John who’s coaching the Baltimore Ravens. John will know his strengths and he’ll play in a city at the heart of everything he’s protesting about. Another viable team is Arizona under great coach Bruce Ariens who will get the most out of him with Carson Palmer coming to the end of his career. I also like the Minnesota Vikings as a potential landing spot with the future of their quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater in question due to injury. All of these are good options I think for both parties. Seattle brought him in. They decided to go with Austin Davis over Kaepernick but it was good to see him given a shot. No way is Austin Davis a better Quarterback. Remember that the San Francisco 49ers are in the same division as the Seahawks so that move could’ve been completely based on gamesmanship.
HISTORY OF PROTESTING RACIAL INEQUALITY
When a football player signs with an NFL franchise they instantly have a platform. They instantly become role models for children and they instantly have responsibilities to their city, their team-mates and to themselves. In the 1968 Olympic games in Mexico city, just a few months following the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr, we saw US sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith each raise a black-gloved fist as the ‘Star spangled banner ‘ played to the stadium in celebration of their gold and bronze medals in the 200 meters. In addition, Smith, Carlos, and Australian silver medalist Peter Norman all wore human rights badges on their jackets. In his autobiography, Silent gesture, Smith stated that the gesture was not a ”black power” salute, but a “human rights salute”. The event is regarded as one of the most overtly political statements in the history of sports. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination at the Motel Loraine in Memphis, Tennessee was truly devastating on a global scale and set us back full of hate as a human race.
On April 28th, 1967. Professional boxer Muhammad Ali made headlines for refusing to be drafted into the US army on the grounds of being a conscientious objector. It would set off a chain of events that wouldn’t cease until a 1971 supreme court decision reversed his conviction. Ali went before military induction officials inside Houston’s military entrance processing station building off San Jacinto and refused to step forward for induction when his name was called. He was later arrested. This came after Ali had made three separate appeals to have his draft status changed due to what he called his non-violent Muslim faith and membership in the nation of Islam. Ali’s boxing career spiraled out of control after his arrest, with New York state athletic commission suspending his boxing license and the World Boxing association stripping him of his World heavyweight title. This banned him from Boxing in the United States .
Ali had long been an opponent of the Vietnam war and had fought being eligible for the military draft for some time. He spelled out his reasoning in a fierce public statement. A week before the incident in Houston he told reporters in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky that he planned to not accept induction in military service.
” Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietman while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights ” – ALI
Ali was a leader for every African American who felt the oppression of racism in the United States. He refused to fight a war for a country that didn’t treat it’s people of color the same as everyone else. The segregation in the south was effecting every sport.
” I ain’t draft dodging. I ain’t burning no flag. I ain’t running to Canada. I’m staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I’ve been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for four or five more, but I ain’t going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won’t even stand up for my right here at home !
One thousand dollars to the man who brings me Howard Cosell’s toupee, dead or alive. ” – ALI
Howard Cosell’s grandson ‘Colin’ works here with us at the SCC as a radio host and Baseball / Boxing expert. I found it fascinating talking to him following Mohammad’s death last year. Lela Ali has also been here so an amazing connection with us and this legend. Howard and Mohammad were really close friends as depicted in the film ‘ALI’ with Will Smith as Ali and Jon Voight as Cosell.
On June 20th, 1967, Ali was tried, convicted and sentenced in a Houston court to five years in prison for refusing to serve in the military and was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine for draft evasion. His lawyers then appealed the courts decision, which was denied in May 1968. He returned to Boxing in 1970 while his case was on appeal.
The case found it’s way to the supreme court in June 1971 where his conviction was overturned. The high court stated that it was not possible to decide which of the three basic tests for conscientious objector status were used and relied on by the draft board in Ali’s case to deny his objecting status.
In football back then, a young running back named Ernie ”The Elmira Express” Davis out of Syracuse university fought individual race wars against teams from the south during his time there. He would have to keep his helmet on whilst he was on the sidelines to protect him from objects being thrown from the crowd. Davis was recruited to Syracuse by the great Jim Brown who thrived in that system there just as Davis did. Elmira Star-Gazzette sports writer Al Mallette coined the nickname for Davis, the “Elmira Express. Davis found discrimination prevalent in the American south during his Cotton Bowl visit to host city Dallas, Texas. Author Jocelyn Selim writes that at the banquet following the 1960 game, Davis was told he could only accept his award and then would be required to leave the segregated facility. Davis and his black teammates were allowed to finish their meals at the banquet. When dessert was brought, a gentleman quietly approached them and told them they would have to leave when the doors were opened to the public for a dance. The three got up to leave and when the teammates found out, they wanted to leave too, but were told that it would only cause a bigger problem, so they stayed. Despite all this discrimination Davis became the first black athlete to be awarded the Heisman trophy (the highest individual honor in collegiate football) and he also won the Walter Camp memorial trophy following his 1961 senior-year season at Syracuse University. President John F Kennedy had followed Davis’ career and requested to meet him while he was in New York to receive the trophy. Later in 1963, when Elmira chose February 3 to celebrate Davis’ achievements, Kennedy sent a telegram, reading:
” Seldom has an athlete been more deserving of such a tribute. Your high standards of performance on the field and off the field, reflect the finest qualities of competition, sportsmanship and citizenship. The nation has bestowed upon you its highest awards for your athletic achievements. It’s a privilege for me to address you tonight as an outstanding American, and as a worthy example of our youth. I salute you. ” – JFK
Following his college career Ernie was drafted to the Washington Redskins and them traded to the Cleveland Browns with the idea of pairing both he and Jim Brown is the same backfield. Redskins founder and owner George Preston Marshall was an avowed racist who kept the Redskins entirely white long after the other teams had integrated. He openly admitted that his unwillingness to sign a black player was an effort to appeal to his mostly Southern fan base (they had long been the southernmost team in the league). The signing only came when interior secretary Stuart Udall issued an ultimatum to Marshall: sign a black player by the start of the 1962 season, or he would revoke the Redskins’ 30-year lease on D.C. Stadium (now Robert F Kennedy stadium). The stadium was a city-owned facility, and the Washington city government has long been legally reckoned as a branch of the federal government (given that the Constitution gives Congress ultimate authority over the capital). Marshall could not bring himself to draft a black player, so he left the decision to general manager and head coach Bill McPeak, who picked Davis. Davis refused to play for the Redskins and demanded a trade. A deal with Cleveland was engineered by Browns coach Paul Brown without the knowledge and consent of the owner Art Modell. This had been standard operating procedure with the Browns from their inception in 1946; Brown served as his own general manager, and had enjoyed a free hand in football matters. The Redskins traded the rights to Davis to the Cleveland Browns for Bobby Mitchell and first-round draft pick Leroy Jackson. Davis chose to go to the Cleveland Browns where his classmate John Brown would be his roommate and Jim Brown, whom he admired, was already playing.
Davis signed a three-year, $200,000 contract with the Browns in late December 1961 in San Francisco while preparing for the East-West shrine game.
The Browns’ dream of pairing Davis with Jim Brown took a tragic turn when Davis was diagnosed with leukemia . The rift between Coach Brown and Modell worsened when Modell brought in doctors who said Davis was well enough to play and Brown still refused to allow it. Although Davis’s leukemia was in remission at the time, Brown felt letting him play would hurt team morale. This contributed to Modell’s decision to replace Brown before the 1963 season.
Davis was allowed to practice on the field without physical contact and helped Brown draw up game plans but he never played a meaningful down. His only appearance at Cleveland stadium came at a pre-season game on August 18, in which he ran onto the field as a spotlight followed him. Following his death, the Browns retired his number 45 jersey. At 6’2” 212lbs, I have no doubt that like Jim Brown, Davis would thrive in today’s NFL. Like Brown recruited Davis, Davis recruited Floyd Little. Little was a hall of fame NFL running back for the Denver Broncos. All protested racial inequality in their own way with the platforms they were given.
Jim Brown was one of the original athlete activists along with Mohammad Ali, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It’s important to remember that OJ Simpson chose not to be a part of this ‘Athlete activist’ team and many African American athletes saw him living as a white man in a white mans world. I don’t think OJ saw himself as a color. OJ wasn’t white or Black. He was just OJ.
On the basketball court we had the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In tennis, the legendary Arthur Ashe would fight the cause. In other sports many African Americans would stand up for racial injustice and use their prominence and visibility to draw attention to social issues that afflicted the African American community. These legendary competitors would blaze a trail for future African American athletes to follow, leaving a legacy for the next round of freedom fighters. The African American athlete’s that immediately followed, however, were focused more on their ‘Brand’ and the balance sheet as they found a way to increase their presence in the burgeoning sports industrial complex.
Michael Jordan undeniably changed sport by allowing players and competitors to realize the value of their labor power in negotiating contracts as well as lucrative celebrity endorsement deals. Even more so, pitching and developing products for mass consumption for the Nike corporation and ultimately branding his likeness with the ”Air Jordan ” sneaker craze. He paved the way for today’s athletes to open up additional revenue streams. A players brand became the focus for the African American professional athlete of the 1990’s, as they labored to gain financial security for their families in a hostile environment. But at what cost did this come to themselves and the Black community ?
Jordan proved that the athlete had power to negotiate his or her own contracts and take a piece of the monetary shave. But by failing to recognize that his power could be utilized to help human suffering, he in essence turned his back on Black America. A people still in crisis. This was never more apparent than when his ‘Airness’ famously stated ” Republicans buy shoes too ” as he declined to politically endorse the Black North Carolina incumbent for senate against proud southern racist Jesse Helms.
African Americans have been largely left out from developmental and business aspects of sport ( coaching, operations, ownership ect ect ) since forever. They were hired to be workhorse and the beasts of burden with no stake in the game. The new millennium has been a resurgence in athlete activism.
The Miami Heat posted a team picture with the squad wearing hoodies covering their heads and faces in support of Trayvon Martin. LeBron James is arguably the most formidable among his peers. His voice is often heard loud and clear. He recognizes the enormous sway that he holds in a sport-frenzied and capitol driven society. Feeling an obligation to use that platform in the cause of social justice. ” King James ” has been deliberate in taking a position to support African Americans, whether it be posting a protest picture supporting the late Trayvon Martin or voicing criticism of former LA Clippers owner Donald Stirling.
But James certainly has not been the only audible descendant.
Members of the then St Louis Rams ( LA Rams ) staged a pre-game demonstration in support of the Ferguson community in wake of Michael Brown’s death by a Ferguson police officer. The wide receivers all entered the stadium in St.Louis with their hands raised in the air as a suggestion towards surrendering before law enforcement.
It’s important that professional athletes express themselves beyond the field of play and show support to the city they play in. To give back to the fans and the people that allow them to do what they do. Every athlete has a platform and it’s important to stand up for what’s right in the world. It inspires others to do so.
After the news that Eric Gardner’s killer would not be indicted, NBA player Derrick Rose kicked off a wave of consternation wearing a warm-up T-shirt embossed with the ”I can breath” protest declaration.
Several football players and soon entire NBA basketball teams followed suit. The concerns, however, were not isolated to the professional athlete. College programs like Notre Dame women’s basketball and Georgetown men’s basketball also involved themselves in the fray.
Enter pre-season 2016 and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Some may say he ruined his career protesting the way he did last year. There’re injury concerns. There’re issues with his asking price. Many think he’s just not good enough anymore but I personally think he’s being black balled because of his willingness to stand up for what he believes is right. After the game against Green Bay on Monday night football, Kaepernick stood firm in his decision to choose not to stand for the anthem saying, “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed.” I know he’s flamboyant and I understand that losing his place to Blaine Gabbert as the starting Quarterback hurt him, I stated that on national radio but I also think he would have protested if he was a starter. I think he’s easily in the top 32 Quarterbacks in the game. That means he should be starting for a franchise. He’s a distraction of a different kind. A good distraction if you will. He’s doing the right thing and getting punished for it. That just isn’t right but it’s a business at the end of the day and not a protest march. I think he’s brave and honest but I also think he’s throwing away his career. It’s pre-season 2017 and the Seattle Seahawks have just brought him in for a workout. They decided to sign Austin Davis over him. He’s more proven and just a better Quarterback the Austin Davis. We’ll see how the next few months unfold but I have the up-most respect for him as a man. He’s donated millions to charity and he’s gone out of his way to help and improve the lives of so many. Take away his platform and popularity as a professional athlete and all you have is a good man that’s doing the right thing. I know it’s a cliche but imagine if everyone was doing what Colin Kaepernick’s doing. The world would be a much better place. Unfortunately he’s a professional Quarterback that should be leading a franchise. He’s not Martin Luther King jr, Gandhi, Jusus of Nasareth or Malcolm X. He wants to be Mohammed Ali. The difference is that Ali’s sport was so personal. He didn’t have a whole team or a franchise depending on him. He fought political wars in the ring and in press conferences.
It’s impossible for Kaepernick to do that without being a distraction. That’s why he’s currently a free agent looking for a job in the NFL. Perhaps he should retire and become a politician or a human right activist. I feel it’s either one or the other for him. It doesn’t seem that he can do both. I have a feeling he’ll continue to try though. I have to respect that. With all of my heart I respect that.
Jacoby Brissett at the White house
Shortly after the Patriots left the White House following a visit with President Trump. A visit many decided not to attend because of the issues raised, third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett posted a picture to Instagram of him in front of a picture of Barack Obama inside the White House.
The caption was a long letter written by Brissett thanking Obama for what he did for not only the country, but being an inspiration to him. He hopes to meet the former president one day.
It read: Dear Big O,
I am writing you this letter to say thank you. I want to thank you for what you have done for this country – outside of politics. Honestly, I don’t know enough about politics to judge what was good or bad, but I want you to know that when you said “Yes We Can” – a young man dreaming a dream from rough circumstances in Florida heard you. When you were elected President for the first time I was 16 and I watched you make the never-imaginable, attainable and I heard your cry to inspire hope. I used those words as motivation and saw your achievement as an opportunity and permission to work make my dreams come true too. You were the President of the United States – the highest office in the world. You broke a barrier and a stereotype proving not every minority has to use a ball to make a way. You’ve inspired a lifetime of dreamers young and old. Now, kids from my community – and my future children – will know that there is no dream too big – even they could be the President of the United States. As I prepare for the honor of visiting the White House, I will be there as a Super Bowl Champion – and I will think of you, mainly because the White House is a different, and better place because you lived there. I was a kid that came from nothing and I am living out one of the greatest dreams of my life. I am just grateful for the opportunity to walk on the same steps as you did, and to have a platform to inspire and I hope to leave my mark on history the way you did. One day, when I meet you, I will shake your hand and say thank you to your face but until then this kid is going to continue to dream until I can’t anymore. Thank you for blazing a trail, but for more than that, for leaving a paved road behind you for others to climb on.
The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your DREAMS – Oprah
Yes we can!! DREAM BIG!! Thank you,
When players decide to not meet with the US president after winning a Superbowl I think we have a big problem. I’ve always seen sports as an extension of politics. Arguably the closest thing to it. Mohammad Ali was evidence of that as was Tommie Smith and John Carlos. They blazed a trail for athletes in all sports to speak out to the masses. As a journalist, it’s my duty to express the feelings and statements raised by these athlete activists. I just can’t believe we’re still dealing with racism and hatred in society today. We have to come together and find peace if we want to live in happiness and harmony. We have to respect and live through those that have passed away with the dreams and visions of peace they had. The Martin Luther King’s and the Mohammed Ali’s of this world. We owe it to them. As my attention turns to the NFL season and the many projects I have, I will hope to incorporate my hopes and feelings into my writing and work.
With the NFL returning to London this October, I’ll have many opportunities to speak with athletes on this matter. It’s interesting to see how much a player stands beside another in times like this. The NFL is a huge brotherhood full of characters from every walk of life. I hope to entertain my readers with some of the stories that come along with these people. Some have come from nothing. They’ve willed their way into the NFL through sheer hard work and determination. There isn’t much I find more inspiring than another human being that does that.
Thanks for taking the time to read my work and I hope you’ve learned something new today. I’ll be blogging and creating articles all throughout the NFL and NCAA season.
By Rhodri Jones.
Dedicated in memory to my aunt Janice. A beautiful soul.